In this edition of Head-to-Head, we compare two no-fee credit cards that give you access to the Aeroplan ecosystem, albeit through different channels: the American Express Green Card and the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card.
If you’re just getting started with credit cards, or are on a limited budget but would still like to benefit from the many upsides of Aeroplan, which no-fee credit card is your best option for doing so?
1. Annual Fee
Both cards have no annual fee, and are noteworthy for that exact reason, so it’s a clear tie in this department. Neither card requires a fee for supplementary cards either.
As no-fee products, both the Amex Green Card and CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card are solid choices for an early credit card to pick up, helping you build credit history over the long run as a product that you’ll keep open forever.
2. Points Currency
While the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card strictly earns Aeroplan points, the Amex Green Card’s Membership Rewards (MR) points can be transferred to six eligible airline programs, including Aeroplan, and two hotel programs as well.
MR points are considered one of Canada’s most valuable points currencies for this reason. For example, points can be transferred 1:1 to British Airways or converted to Marriott Bonvoy at a 1:1.2 ratio, making MR points more flexible than the Aeroplan points earned on the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card.
3. Welcome Bonus
Both cards offer a welcome bonus of 10,000 points; however, the means of actually acquiring each welcome bonus differs.
The American Express Green Card offers 10,000 MR points upon meeting a minimum spending requirement of $1,000 within the first three months. It’s also worth noting that the card has historically offered some marginally higher bonuses, too, with a correspondingly higher minimum spend.
On the other hand, when you sign up with the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card, you’ll earn 10,000 Aeroplan points after your first purchase – which could be as low as $0.01. The points are deposited directly into your Aeroplan account after your credit card statement date.
4. Earning Rates
The Amex Green Card has an earning structure of 1 MR point for every dollar spent on all eligible spending.
Meanwhile, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card earns 1 Aeroplan point per dollar spent on Air Canada purchases (including Air Canada Vacations), groceries, and gas.
All other purchases made with the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card earn 1 Aeroplan point for every $1.50 spent, meaning you’re effectively only earning 0.67 Aeroplan points per dollar.
We typically think of “one point per dollar” as the baseline that most credit cards should give you, so an earning rate below that is not very competitive at all.
5. Perks & Benefits
As no-fee cards, neither the Amex Green Card nor the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card offer too many meaningful benefits.
There’s one exception: with the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card, you’ll get preferred pricing on Aeroplan redemptions on Air Canada flights, equivalent to an 8–15% discount on the Aeroplan points prices that a non-cardholder would pay. That’s actually a fairly strong benefit for a no-fee card.
In addition, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card also has the minor benefit of ensuring that your Aeroplan points will never expire – something the Amex Green Card doesn’t offer as a non-co-branded product.
6. Ease of Getting Approved
The American Express Green Card has no minimum income requirement, while the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card still requires a minimum household income of $15,000, making Amex’s no-fee product the more accessible one.
As neither card has an annual fee, insurance inclusions are relatively limited.
Both products offer the buyer’s assurance and purchase protection, doubling the manufacturer’s warranty on new purchases and reimbursing you on the purchase cost due to physical damage or theft within 90 days of purchase.
In addition, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card also offers up to $100,000 of Common Carrier Accident Insurance and auto rental collision/loss damage insurance of up to 48 days, giving it the broader insurance coverage out of the two.
8. Upgrading & Downgrading
One of the more interesting uses of no-fee credit cards is to upgrade to a higher-tier product once you’re ready to pursue bigger welcome bonuses in exchange for paying some annual fees.
Meanwhile, downgrading to a no-fee product can also be a way to avoid paying more annual fees than you need to, with a view of upgrading again in the future.
Of the two no-fee Canadian credit cards with entry into the Aeroplan ecosystem, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card is more attractive if you’d like to potentially upgrade your card to a higher-tier flavour, like the core CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite or the premium CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege in the future.
American Express doesn’t allow product switches, so you won’t be able to achieve the same with the Amex Green Card.
Instead, you’ll be able to combine MR points from other cards with the no-fee Green Card if you wanted to close your other cards, but this only works with other products in the “MR Select” tier of MR points, such as the Cobalt Card and the Business Edge Card.
9. Visual Appearance
In my view, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card has a more appealing face, with a sleek and clean design.
Despite featuring the signature gladiator design and being made of 99% recycled plastic, the Amex Green Card still looks somewhat outdated and similar to an old US dollar bill.
The CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card has a few one-ups on the American Express Green Card, including a welcome bonus of 10,000 Aeroplan points that can be unlocked with no minimum spend, preferred pricing on Aeroplan redemptions, and a better insurance offering.
However, the superior earning rate and greater flexibility of MR points on the American Express Green Card also helps it make up for the differences.
I’d say that the Green Card is the better choice if you’d like a no-fee credit card that you’ll actually use on a day-to-day basis, as you’d earn points quicker and have a broader use of those points.
On the other hand, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card is best if you simply want to strategically hold a no-fee card for its potential upsides: an easy welcome bonus, discounts on Aeroplan bookings, and the ability to upgrade and downgrade in the future to unlock welcome bonuses on more of CIBC’s Aeroplan co-branded offerings.